Reset: Standards - Rev. Michael F. Bailey

Reset: Standards
Matthew 5:21–27
Rev. Michael F. Bailey
February 12, 2017

Matthew 5:21-37
21 ‘You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, “You shall not murder”; and “whoever murders shall be liable to judgement.” 22But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgement; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, “You fool”, you will be liable to the hell of fire.23So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, 24leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift. 25Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are on the way to court with him, or your accuser may hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you will be thrown into prison. 26Truly I tell you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny.

27 ‘You have heard that it was said, “You shall not commit adultery.”28But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 29If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to be thrown into hell.30And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to go into hell.

We continue in our series called: Reset! Our faith, hope and prayer is that in Jesus and in this New Year you will allow God, by God’s grace, to reset your life! I had hoped that this would be a great New Year’s winter-time series to get us started right and to be reflective as the cold weather keeps us indoors. Many have appreciated the series, so that’s gone well, but it’s hard to believe it’s winter time. We’re due to hit 81 degrees, and we’re in the early half of February. But that’s been good for some of us. 

Some of us need a feel of early spring. As I’ve driven into the parsonage drive this week, living through the grief of the recent loss of my father, I saw four yellow jonquils in bloom. It reminded me of what my father always said to me in my lowest times: “Son, it may be winter now, but come spring, the jonquils will raise their radiant heads.” There’s hope in that and a move toward a reset in life that some of us who’ve been in a personal winter need right now. God is good in so many ways.

And a major way God is good to us is revealed in today’s passage.

And that may surprise you, because today’s passage is a tough one! But Jesus spoke it, I believe, to give us an important attitude, an open heart, and discovering eyes. 

Jesus today speaks words of high standards. He sets us up beautifully, doesn’t he? think of it; if he’d left out the parallels to all of the awful behaviors he mentions, most of us would be just fine. About most of his initial saying, most of us could say, “I don’t murder. I give offerings. I’m not about to go to court with an accuser. I’m not about to commit adultery.”

And maybe that’s just his point. Could it be that Jesus is trying to tell us something about God’s standards?Especially when he adds so much that “catches” us all. “If you’re angry you’ll be subject to judgment. If you insult someone you’ll be before a judgment council. If you call a brother a brother or sister a “fool” you’re liable to the fires of Hell. Never make an offering if a brother or sister has something against you. Come to terms with accusers or wind up in prison. Just a lustful thought is as bad as adultery.” 

And then we look at ourselves. How many times have we been angry with someone? How often have we called someone names? 

I suspect most of us have used the word fool or something like it describing a brother or sister. 

When I was in Tennessee with my family around my dad’s end of life, I had some challenges with a particular family member. That is so common in my experience. I’ve told some folks that a big picture reason the stories of Cain and Abel and the Prodigal Son are in the Bible is to show us that some dysfunction in families is as old as the Word itself! That said, in anger one day I called a family member a name, not even arguably worse than “fool.” It was much worse. I suspect we all do it or have done it. And we live in a name-calling culture, don’t we? More, our culture often seems determined to trivialize God’s gift of sexuality in so many ways that seek to entice. 

We see the standards for our behavior under Jesus are raised to the point of all of us failing to some degree. 

And I would suggest that’s just where he wants us to be, and here’s why: his words bring us to the important attitude of knowing without a doubt our only hope is God’s grace and accepting such. 

Grace has been called God’s un-deserved forgiveness. Grace’s affect is at its deepest level when our hearts are broken by our own failure to keep God’s standards. Grace is kept from being “cheap” when there is Spirit-assisted repentance, a turning from the brokenness we’ve brought about between us and God, us and others, and between ourselves and who God created us and desires for us to be. To simply claim God’s forgiveness with full intention to reload and repeat the brokenness cheapens the grace, the cross, and the gift of Jesus. 

All of this brings to mind that turning from sin toward the desired standards of Christ implies we know and want the life for ourselves that Christ wants, that Christ’s standards for living are paramount; we desire his reset. 

This leads to a second important point in this passage: besides an attitude of acknowledging our need for and dependency on grace alone, I believe Jesus spoke these words so we’d maintain an open heart to the power of the Holy Spirit.

God is so good that God doesn’t require of us that which God doesn’t equip us to achieve. And God’s equipping of us to achieve these standards is through the Holy Spirit. Isaiah describes this ministry of God with, on and for us: O Lord, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand.” (Isa. 64:8)

Many have said and it’s so true, “God in God’s grace meets you right where you are and loves you right where you are. But, God loves you too much to leave you there.” God wants so much more for us in life and sends the Holy Spirit to grow us. 

Consider everything Jesus talks about in our passage that is negative about people: anger, insulting of others, name calling, holding grudges, accusing of one another and lust. Then, consider everything that is fruit of the Spirit, Paul wrote: By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. (Galatians 5:22)

And, let’s note our role: it is to maintain a heart open to the life-shaping Spirit through living the Spiritual Disciplines. Now, a discipline is something practiced over the long-haul on a regular basis. Beautifully, discipline is from the very word: disciple. A disciple of Jesus, becomes more like their Lord through living the spiritual disciplines.

You’re likely to know many of them: prayer (which is two way in nature, speaking and listening) contemplation, searching the Scriptures, worship, receiving communion, fasting, being in a Christian small group, service (especially of the weak and rejected,) generous giving, solitude, silence, self-denial, fasting and keeping a Sabbath. Christ Church offers a myriad of ministries to teach and help you maintain spiritual disciplines. Any on the church team would be honored to help you discover what would help you best. And the changes the Spirit can bring about in your life are remarkable. Why, God uses the spiritual disciplines to bring out the image of the divine upon you. 

I love watching all of these period shows on PBS set in times gone by, typically somewhere in the UK. Often they have some scenes portraying education in that setting. From these shows, it’s easy to surmise that 18th Century education in Scotland was harsh. It was marked by corporeal punishment, humiliation and pain. Penmanship, with easily blotting pens, was strictly taught. If a child made a mistake and left a blot of ink on the page, most teachers would hone in with written remarks and verbal berating. All except Joseph Craik. Joseph, besides being a teacher, was a remarkable artist with pen and ink. Whenever one of his students made a blot, with imaginative and sure, deft pen lines, turned their blot into a beautiful drawn angel. He became known as the man who turned inkblots into angels. And that just like, the Spirit’s work in our lives – the Spirit can and will take the inkblot mistakes we often make of our lives and shape us like an angel.

Finally, I believe that Jesus spoke these words to not only lead us to grace, open hearts to the life shaping Spirit, but to challenge us to see all of the other resources God has given us on earth. 

Granted there are no earthly resources greater than the Holy Spirit, but there are many given by God for our benefit, often through others.

For nearly every situation Jesus mentioned in our passage, God has provided persons in various professions to help us. 

Think about it! There are wonderful counselors, therapists and others professionals that help many with managing anger. If we have “issues” with others, perhaps in our own family and are quick to call them names; if we have trouble reconciling with people, even loved ones. There are so many resources, guides, counselors and helpers for all these situations. Why there are even those who provide an alternative to the courts through mediation and resolution services. 

The point is this: all that are doing good in the world, I believe have their ultimate source in God’s love for us. And they are meant to work alongside grace and the Holy Spirit! As we practice the spiritual disciplines, we are to also see and seek the other ways God has given us to grow the Christ’s standards. This is particularly true if our struggle has become a habit or pattern of behavior. 

So, I urge you, as you engage in receiving grace and practicing the Spiritual disciplines, to be honest to and before God about anything that displeases God and seek the help God has given us in and through others. 

Now, next week, we are going to have a special time at all four services to “bless the hands that heal” in our congregation and community. These are the resources God has given us in the gift of others. In the Louvre, there is a painting of Christ with the odd title, “With arms folded.” Rembrandt, the artist, has light focusing on the hands of Christ. Christ did so much healing and loving with his hands. We want to bless those of you who are his hands today. If you are in any role in health care, physical, relationship, emotional, mental health care or if you have family members or friends in such a role, please know that next Sunday is your special Sunday. We want to thank God for you and all and pray for your ministry of working with God to make the broken whole. 

Let us pray. 

Discussion Questions for February 12: Standards

  1. Since most of us have been angry with brothers or sisters or called someone an unkind name, share where you believe our hope resides for avoiding judgement.
  2. Share with your group the role you believe the Holy Spirit has in human growth toward the standards Christ states in the passage.
  3. Share with your group how you’ve changed for the better through the Spirit’s help.
  4. Share with your group the spiritual practice (worship, scripture study, prayer, communion, small groups, service, etc.) that has been most effective in God shaping your life.